Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens 1949-2011

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 4:55 pm

About a year or so after Hitchens began writing defenses of the war in Iraq, I stopped reading him. Bombarded as I am by wall-to-wall stupidity from network and cable television, op ed articles by Thomas Friedman, and all the rest, I just found no reason to add Hitchens to the menu.

But when I learned that he had cancer, I began reading everything he had to say about his illness including the final riveting piece in Vanity Fair that made it clear that the end was near:

I have come to know that feeling all right: the sensation and conviction that the pain will never go away and that the wait for the next fix is unjustly long. Then a sudden fit of breathlessness, followed by some pointless coughing and then—if it’s a lousy day—by more expectoration than I can handle. Pints of old saliva, occasional mucus, and what the hell do I need heartburn for at this exact moment? It’s not as if I have eaten anything: a tube delivers all my nourishment. All of this, and the childish resentment that goes with it, constitutes a weakening. So does the amazing weight loss that the tube seems unable to combat. I have now lost almost a third of my body mass since the cancer was diagnosed: it may not kill me, but the atrophy of muscle makes it harder to take even the simple exercises without which I’ll become more enfeebled still.

Ever since the time I spent working as a database administrator at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, arguably the most prestigious cancer hospital in the world, I have read first-hand accounts of those stricken with the disease with a mixture of curiosity and dread. Just a few days ago, I read an extremely powerful article by Earl Shorris in Harper’s (unfortunately not online) that described his latest hospitalization for lymphoma. Shorris is the author of many outstanding books, particularly “Jews without Mercy”. Titled “American vespers: The ebbing of the body politic”, the article uses his illness as a metaphor for the current state of imperial America in defiance obviously of Susan Sontag’s refusal to see cancer as a metaphor for anything. Shorris writes:

The radiologist slides a disc into the machine to read the results of a PET scan; the radioisotopes in the glucose emit gamma rays in sufficient amounts to be absorbed by a scintillator, which will emit points of light in the general location of a part of a body using or collecting a large amount of glucose. This sugar-hungry place may be the bladder, where all the used sugars cleansed from the blood by the kidneys will be stored until they are excreted; or the brain, which converts sweets to thoughts at an astonishing rate; or malignant cells, the restless, immortal mistakes of nature. In the case of metastases, the body appears on a computer screen festively: lights in the evening of a life.

I was a Christmas tree.

Shorris’s lymphoma resonates with me since it is the same illness that took the life of Peter Camejo, whose insights I always found invaluable even during the time we had a falling out over money, and Harvey Pekar. When I used to talk to Harvey about Peter’s illness, he’d assure me that the disease was not a death sentence since he was cancer-free. Within a few months, Peter would be gone and Harvey would soon follow.

Years after leaving Sloan-Kettering I was haunted by images of the hospital. The sight of emaciated patients walking through the corridors with chemo bottles attached to their veins or children who had lost their hair lingered on a decade or more. That is not to speak of the terrible dreams I had, mostly of treatment rooms that I had never even entered. There would be a battery of frightening looking machines that really had no correspondence to any real ones, looking more like a Gahan Wilson cartoon in the New Yorker than anything else.

I can’t remember the name of the book, but at the time I read a kind of social history of the disease that mentioned Hubert Humphrey’s stay there. It pointed out that the treatment was worse than the disease, causing immense suffering with little prospects for recovery. It was understandable why the hospital was anxious to introduce a new computer system that would keep track of delinquent accounts. Typically, when a loved one entered the hospital and met the same fate as Humphrey, the aggrieved relatives of the deceased would refuse to pay their bills. My disgust with the hospital’s bottom line mentality led me to resign and go to Nicaragua in search of a volunteer job in Sandinista Nicaragua.

There’s not much I can add to what others have said about Hitchens’s political degeneration during his life and now after his death. I will conclude with a piece I wrote back in 1999 about the feud between Hitchens and Cockburn. While it is mostly about Cockburn, it anticipates Hitchens’s sharp turn to the right. The article argues that radical journalists often go astray because of a political downturn that leaves them disoriented. Perhaps if back in 1999 there was a powerful mass movement taking shape like the Occupy movement of today, Hitchens might not have gone off the rails. In any case, whatever his sins and peccadilloes over the past decade or so, I find myself touched by his death.

Feuding radical journalists

Yesterday Alexander Cockburn attacked Christopher Hitchens as a snitch and a drunk in his NY Press column. Hitchens was in the news because of his testimony in the Senate trial of Bill Clinton. He stated that long-time friend Sidney Blumenthal had told him that Monica Lewinsky was a stalker, after Blumenthal had denied this under oath. This means that Blumenthal can spend time in prison for perjury.

Cockburn tries to paint Hitchens as a latter-day version of Whittaker Chambers for snitching on a friend in the way that Chambers ratted out Alger Hiss, but the comparison seems a bit far-fetched. I agree basically with Frank Rich’s assessment on the op-ed page of today’s NY Times:

Christopher Hitchens and Sidney Blumenthal. Let me get this straight: Mr. Hitchens, a Clinton critic, signs an affidavit saying that his friend of 15 years, Mr. Blumenthal, a Clinton sycophant, aided Bill Clinton’s effort to defame Monica Lewinsky. Yet Mr. Hitchens also declares that he’d “rather be held in contempt” than actually testify against Mr. Blumenthal should the Senate put the Clinton aide on trial. The writer Christopher Buckley describes this dust-up as “a Chambers-versus-Hiss moment. . . . the kind of event in which one inevitably must take sides.”

Must we? If Mr. Hitchens won’t testify, there’s no case. Even if he were to testify, the case is still legally weak — given Mr. Blumenthal’s lawyerly testimony — and is at most a sideshow to the impeachment articles. Where are the huge principles to rally around? The fate of anti-Communism isn’t at stake — nor even the fate of the Clinton Presidency. What is on the line are the guest lists of certain Washington dinner parties, a lot of lawyers’ fees and Mr. Hitchens’s continued ability to command a spotlight on All Monica talk shows. This catfight isn’t Chambers-vs.-Hiss but Beaver-vs.-Eddie Haskell, less suitable for CNN than for Nick at Nite.

Cockburn, Hitchens and Blumenthal all started out the same way, as radical journalists in the 1960s. All three had loose ties to the organized radical movement. Cockburn worked with the Trotskyists at NLR, including Tariq Ali, Mike Davis and Robin Blackburn. Hitchens was a member of Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party, a British state-capitalist sect, while Blumenthal wrote for the New Leftist Boston Phoenix.

Cockburn and Hitchens have capitalized on their leftist connections and have become quite successful as “house radicals” at the Nation. Blumenthal shifted to the right in the 1980s, because he was never as anchored to the organized left as the two others. He went to work for Martin Peretz at the New Republic and dropped all his earlier radical pretensions. This made him a candidate for the White House staff of neoliberal Bill Clinton. The most interesting thing about the Hitchens-Cockburn spat is how much energy it has generated. Cockburn is totally consumed with hatred for Hitchens, while Hitchens spends much of his time trying to promote a career as a talking head on Sunday morning television shows, in a manner similar to Nation Magazine heavy hitter Eric Alterman.

It is difficult to regard Cockburn as a leftist stalwart nowadays in light of his own dubious trips down blind alleys over the past ten years. His championing of right-wing populism and Indian gambling casinos can only trouble erstwhile supporters like me. He has also cultivated an image of backwoods misanthropic crank that summons up poet Robinson Jeffers and other notable American nut cases.

What is the explanation for this sort of odd and repellent behavior? I think the answer lies in the Clinton administration’s hegemony. During the 1980s, the Reagan-Bush team rallied left liberals and radicals against a clearly defined enemy. After Clinton took office, the institutional ties between left liberals and radicals continued–mostly through writing assignments, jobs at foundations, etc.–but the political terrain shifted. The big name radicals were slowly losing touch with their radical base, so they tended to write more and more about their private obsessions rather than public concerns. In the old days, Cockburn would write 1 column about his vacation trips or restaurant meals or personal feuds to 10 columns about the mass movement. Now the ratio seems 50/50.

This a tough time for independent radical journalists. Without a vibrant mass movement, they tend to become disoriented. Their careers loom more importantly as approaching middle or old age reminds them about the need to feather their own nest. Quarrels with the IRS, the numbers of pages a column occupies, connections to powerful funding or job sources, etc. take over one’s thinking.

The other problem is that ideological confusion crops up more frequently. When volunteers returned from picking coffee beans in Nicaragua and spoke to audiences about how inspiring a revolution could be, this energy seeped its way into left-liberal institutions like the Nation and the Institute for Policy Studies. Without that energy, our radical journalists go off on tangents about what’s wrong with socialism, rather than what’s wrong with the capitalist system.

The only solution is a radical shift in the objective conditions. Radical journalists don’t tend to be too strongly grounded in Marxism, so they need constant empirical reminders of how rotten the system is. Some of these radicals might even defect to the establishment if empirical reminders don’t come in the nick of time. We are living in a disorienting period, but there are signs of change on the horizon. The election of social democrats in Europe is the first real sign of a shift away from the capitalist consensus. More changes will come, because the capitalist system itself is forced to produce them. That part of the Communist Manifesto is as true as ever.

52 Comments »

  1. Wish you had resisted the temptation to tack that 99 article onto what was a very touching post.

    Comment by md — December 16, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

  2. On Sonntag:

    Perhaps her refusal to see cancer as a metaphor for anything arose from her unwillingness to admit the reality of her cancer in the first place. She seemed totally unwilling to contemplate the possibility of her own death. For her metaphors were real, the stuff of her intellectual life; to grant metaphor status to cancer was further than she wanted to go. I congratulate Hitchens posthumously for realism about the state of his own body. Numerous people I have known have completely denied what was happening to them as they neared death and, although it is chickenshit for the living to criticize them, seem to me to have diminished their own existence before it was really over. Still, nothing is so personal as death so I am reluctant so I am reluctant to judge anybody for how they approach it.

    Comment by davidbyrnemcdonaldiiiavid McDonald — December 16, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

  3. I don’t know when the Metaphor Police began, but the product of the US’s upper-class education system have a fondness for declaring what may be a metaphor: cancer, Nazis, slavery, etc. But metaphors stay metaphors, no matter who denies them.

    Comment by Will Shetterly — December 16, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

  4. The death of Christopher Hitchens is a personal tragedy for his family, but on the left it simply reflects the continued passage of time and the passage of once-left individuals who’ve gone over to the better-paying ranks of the ex-leftists. The fact that Hitchens made some noises about being an atheist made him a bit different from other turncoat leftoids, but not by much. Religious activists like Frei Betto, Leonardo Boff and Blase Bonpane are a thousand times more important than the likes of Hitchens.

    Hitchens wasn’t the first and won’t be the last leftist to make this dreary transition. Today Amy Goodman is campaigning along with Washington against the government of Syria, as she had previously campaigned against the government of Libya.

    For those who consider themselves Marxist or leftist, time spent on Christopher Hitchens today is time wasted. A better investment of time would be to defend Syria, Iran, Venezuela and others against the massive US propaganda campaigns against them.

    Walter Lippmann
    Havana, Cuba

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/

    Comment by walterl@earthlink.net — December 16, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

  5. Sorry. My full and correct e-mail address is:
    walterlx@earthlink.net

    Working in a dialup environment is hell!

    Comment by walterl@earthlink.net — December 16, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

  6. Double sorry. I entered my e-mail address wrongly the first time around, and have now corrected that.

    Walter Lippmann
    Havana, Cuba
    walterlx@earthlink.net

    Comment by walterlx@earthlink.net — December 16, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  7. Walter, you forgot to urge people to “defend Russia” against those filthy counter-revolutionary protesters.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 16, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

  8. Read his arguments not his conclusions. A restless mind has much more to offer than a repository of settled doctrine. I hardly ever agreed with Christopher Hitchens’s conclusions but I rarely appreciated his polemical style but I regarded him and still do as a genuine thinker, whose life was bound by his evlving thought. As I would like mine to be.

    Comment by Benjamin Boretz — December 16, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

  9. I was disgusted by Hitchens defense of Mrs. Bush on national TV. It was so bizarre. But I like him as a pundit, well-spoken atheist, and generally funny guy. Not everything has to be a Leninist polemic in life. He will be missed because there is a huge absence of intellect in the tv media. Bill Mahr or Keith Olbermann? Really juvenile, third raters. Yes, we can subsist on radical newspapers for a time. But most of us are TV addicts, like it or not. He was the buried vitamin pill in the mac and cheese.

    Comment by Hugh B. — December 16, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

  10. Thanks for the reminder, Louis. Your confidence that Washington isn’t interfering in Russia, as it isn’t interfering in Syria, China, Venezuela, Iran or Cuba is appreciated. You could ask Alan Gross about the latter in case you want to ask an informed source. It’s especially kute to read how Obama is demanding that Tehran return the US drone which the Iranians captured.

    The world really DOES look differently where a revolutionary leadership has control of the mass media as it does here on the Pearl of the Caribbean. You ought to come and take a look at it, Louis.

    Walter Lippmann
    Havana, Cuba

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/

    ===========================================
    The World Is Tired of U.S. Dictatorship, Says Putin

    Moscow, Dec 15 (Prensa Latina) Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the world is tired of U.S. dictatorship, a nation that does not need allies, but vassals.

    During a live televised meeting with Russian citizen, Putin referred to events in Afghanistan, a nation, he noted, attacked by Washington in October 2001, without anyone’s approval and with the alleged pretext of killing Osama Bin Laden

    Putin said that Russia would like to be an ally of the United States but Washington is only looking for vassals.

    The Russian prime minister has confirmed his intention to run for the presidency in March elections, in a bid to take a third mandate.

    jg/ajs/msl/to
    ==========================
    U.N.: Russia calls for political settlement of Syria crisis

    United Nations, Dec 16, (RHC), — Russia has called to solve the crisis in Syria by means of political dialogue, calling on all sides involved to end to the ongoing violence in the country.

    altIn a draft resolution on Syria submitted by Moscow to the United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC), Russia urged both the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the country’s opposition to engage in dialogue and to work together towards reform.

    The document reiterates Russia’s stance of the conflict, saying there is no need to topple Assad as without him things could get even worse.

    Russia has repeatedly slammed the Western stance on Syria and called for a domestic solution to the country’s crisis.

    Syria has been rocked by deadly violence since demonstrations both against and in favor of President Assad began in mid-March. Hundreds of people, including members of the security forces, have been killed in the turmoil.

    While the opposition and Western countries accuse Syrian security forces of being behind the killings, Damascus blames outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorist groups for the violence, stressing that the unrest is being orchestrated from abroad. /PRESSTV
    ===================================
    US Spy Drone RQ-170, Main Exhibition Piece in Iran

    Havana, Dec 15 (RHC)—The US RQ-170 spy drone recently captured by Iran will be the main piece of an exhibit that Iranian authorities will soon open and that will include all planes of this kind that Tehran has downed, according to Teheran Times.

    The paper says that Iran will show spy, espionage and attack drones captured from the two countries considered as enemies of Tehran: the United States and Israel.alt

    Iran reportedly has four drones from Israel and three from the United States, including the RQ-170, the most modern espionage kind of US pilotless planes. According to the paper, the four Israeli drones entered Iranian airspace through the eastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the US planes did it through the east and south, on the Persian Gulf coast.

    The announced exhibition, which would be attended by diplomats and the foreign press, Iran could also display some of the most modern drones that Iran says it has. (Cuba Mesaredonda)

    Comment by walterlx@earthlink.net — December 16, 2011 @ 7:28 pm

  11. The world really DOES look differently where a revolutionary leadership has control of the mass media as it does here on the Pearl of the Caribbean. You ought to come and take a look at it, Louis.

    So Leon Trotsky was wrong to write “The Revolution Betrayed”. Instead he should have been writing articles about how great the Moscow subway system was. I think there are lots of lessons that an ex-SWP’er can draw once they are no longer confined to the cult. Walter Lippmann’s main lesson is that Stalin was correct.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 16, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

  12. Unfortunately Walter’s neo-Stalinist outlook on the world has become the “Two-Class Camp Theory” of Sam Marcy. By letting Imperialism decide who the good guys are, every tin-pot dictator who spawns an democratic or opposition movement that Imperialism can throw support behind becomes the best thing since the July 26th Movement.

    One can oppose NATO/Imperialist intervention in Syria without jumping into bed with the regime as Hugo Chavez did with his “friend” Qaddafi. Assad is the BEST thing for Imperialism in the region right now, as was Qaddafi, because they play the role of making *any* support for their opposition look good.

    Comment by David Walters — December 16, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

  13. The Cuban leadership is revolutionary. They know which side they and the oppressed of the world are on. And while Cuba maintain normal diplomatic relations with all sorts of governments, they don’t kid themselves or the world that such governments have all the answers to the problems they confront. You’d have to follow the Cuban media, however, to know that.

    Sam Marcy´s followers do have a better understanding of today´s class and national struggles than do those who echo Washington´s policies around the world. David Walters and Louis Proyect, evidently, think that their posture of ¨índependence¨from the actual struggles which are going on — a sort of neo “third camp” — in today’s world have landed them in the Washington swamp, though of course in its “independent, Marxist wing” Schactman and his friends traversed this same road starting in the 1940s.

    The analytical articles by the followers of Marcy: Workers World and PSL are nuanced and don’t at all claim that the Syrian government should be supported. But, of course, one would have to read what they say to know that.

    Trotsky had many good things to say when he was alive. He would surely have taken the side of the oppressed nations today as he took the side of Ethiopia against Italy in the 1930s. Alas, Trotsky isn’t with us for over seventy years now. I would attentively read what Trotsky had to say if he was available to help us understand world politics today.

    Walter Lippmann
    Havana, Cuba

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/

    Comment by walterlx@earthlink.net — December 16, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

  14. Sam Marcy´s followers do have a better understanding of today´s class and national struggles than do those who echo Washington´s policies around the world.

    Well, of course. Everybody understands the need for crushing the protests in Tiananmen Square. They would have gotten in the way of China sending buses to Cuba.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 16, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

  15. That’s one powerful picture you found of him, Louis. It really clashes with the few images I’ve seen of him.

    Comment by Todd — December 16, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

  16. I’m with Walter, unless one maintains an unadulterated opposition to the Empire of Capital, which has a global hegemony of force projection, then it is very easy to get mixed up in some interventionist campaign. Granted, I think it is easy for ideologues from the West to makes this transition because of a latent sense of racial superiority.

    This is not two camps nor is it Stalinist (Stalin was the first to abandon any pretence of anti-colonial solidarity once Germany invaded Russia), this is a principled anti-colonial position against imperialism in all its forms. This does not mean you blindly support whatever tin-potted regime the stands on the brink, but it does mean you take the broad view and support a policy that sustains socialism, secularism, and especially self-determination.

    Interestingly, the irony of Hitchens is that he advocated for a war that destroyed Iraq’s secular fabric and led to a religious resurgence in the region.

    Comment by ceti — December 16, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

  17. I’m with Walter

    And I am with Leon Trotsky. Trotsky opposed imperialist war on the Soviet Union but he also wrote “The Revolution Betrayed”. The people who went on to form the WWP supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary. This is Stalinism pure and simple.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 16, 2011 @ 8:42 pm

  18. China wasn’t sending buses to Cuba at the time of Tienanmen. The Yutong buses are a recent development. Only within the last half-dozen years or so. Fidel Castro holds a more favorable estimate of China’s role in the world today than some US leftovers.

    Fidel Castro on China: some news and views:

    http://www.walterlippmann.com/fc-china.html

    China Asks USA to Stop Interfering in Domestic Affairs

    Beijing, Dec 13 (Prensa Latina) China requested the United States on Tuesday to stop interfering in its domestic affairs under the human rights pretext, calling this country to reflect more on the problems related to this issue.

    Spokesman of the Foreign Ministry Liu Weimin referred to recent comments of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the mentioned issue and the freedom in Internet.

    Liu reaffirmed China’s will to hold talks based on equality and mutual respect.

    The spokesman underlined that the Chinese government grants a great importance to the protection of the fundamental rights of all ethnic groups and the citizens’ free will in accordance to the law.

    lch/ocs/lam
    Modificado el ( martes, 13 de diciembre de 2011 )
    ————-
    China Grants New Credit to Venezuela

    Caracas, Dec 13 (Prensa Latina) Venezuela”s government received a new credit from the People”s Republic of China, amounting to four billion dollars, which will mainly be used to finance the construction of houses in this South American country.

    The credit was negotiated in Beijing by the Venezuelan vice president for Territorial Development and minister of Energy and Oil, Rafael Ramirez, President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday.

    The Great Mission Housing Venezuela will be the main beneficiary of the new financial resources because, according to Chavez, they are determined to give every Venezuelan a decent home.

    The program, launched in April, aims to build more than two million homes in seven years to solve the housing shortage in the country. So far, more than 100,000 houses have been completed of a total of 153,000 planned for this year.

    jg/gpm/msl/agp

    Walter Lippmann
    Havana, Cuba

    Comment by walterlx@earthlink.net — December 16, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

  19. China wasn’t sending buses to Cuba at the time of Tienanmen.

    I understand that. All we good little Stalinists understand that unless the protesters were crushed, China would have found it more difficult to send buses in the future. After all, you can’t make an omelet without cracking some eggs.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 16, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

  20. Thankfully, Hitchens cannot read these comments on what began as a sort of obituary for him. If he could, and did, he’d probably be quite happy to be dead.

    Comment by Richard Greener — December 16, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

  21. That picture of Hitch is indeed grim. BBC News showed it early this AM. I’ve been reading on the john bits of his memoir: “Hitch-22″. I wouldn’t recommend it.

    It’s my 50th birthday and I’m feeling too old & tired right now to enter into the debate about Marcy, Tienanmen Square, the capitalist restoration movement in Hungary, etc, but I disagree with about 90% of Proyect on those issues.

    Exactly 10 years ago, on my 40th birthday, I took my mom, dad & girlfriend on a Mexican Riviera Cruise that happened also to be one of the first Nation magazine cruises. There I ate dinner with Cockburn, played blackjack with Katrina Vanden Heuvel, got red-baited by the stupid asshole Eric Alterman (although it backfired him since at least 90% of the retirees that attend those cruises are old CPers) and finally got drunk with Hitchens, just him & I, where I picked his brain from midnight until 4AM.

    He was still very pro-Cuba but insisted that if they didn’t soon have elections they’d become illegitimate! He was still for the Vietnamese victory. He was of course for NATO bombing of the Serbs. It was just after 911 but before the 2nd Gulf War and you could sense he had drifted way to the right. It was nevertheless great fun getting drunk with him.

    By the Way. Alterman is hardly a “heavy hitter” at the Nation or anywhere. His articles are sheer drivel. He reminded me of a womanizing cocktail party liberal political science professor from Manhattan. He nearly got booed off the stage during a speech when he confessed how embarrassed he would get during Manhattan cocktail parties when he had to defend welfare.

    Off Topic: Hey Walter. My 70 year old mom is in Cuba until the 20th of this month. Not sure where though? It’s her first trip there.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 16, 2011 @ 11:00 pm

  22. Your evaluation of Hitchens is too charitable. He got cancer, so what? too bad, a lot of people have including prison inmates. Cockburn’s assessment is more on the mark, although I see him going down this same well worn path as well: “New York Intellectual” evolution of becoming a self serving, well-paid, in-house contrarian apologist for the ruling class. As Phil Ochs once said, here’s an exercise in safe logic, love him he’s a liberal. The guy was a shameless and venal philistine. No tears for Christopher Hitchens.

    Comment by Tom Cod — December 16, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

  23. Fuck him

    Comment by soz — December 16, 2011 @ 11:36 pm

  24. Nelson Goodman says, “I look forward to the day when philosophers will be known by the topics they study rather than the views that they hold.”

    Comment by Benjamin Boretz — December 16, 2011 @ 11:54 pm

  25. Well, if it matters to anyone, I have TWO different kinds of cancer, but Christopher Hitchens was POLITICALLY dead long before he became physically dead.

    As I said, his physical death is presumably a personal tragedy to his individual family, but it’s says a lot about the priorities of some people that they would devote this much space to someone who has a political corpse long before he became a physical one.

    Fidel Castro isn’t in the best of physical shape, but his mind works pretty well. His columns:

    http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/reflexiones/reflexiones.html

    Comment by walterlx@earthlink.net — December 16, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

  26. Shame that this blog on Hitchens was hijacked by our ultra-Marcyites in order to smear their opponents (and I detested Hitchens politically).

    “Ultra-Marcyites” because, while in a way I could understand their support for Stalinism in Hungary of the 1950’s, one enters BizarroWorld with the mechanical – “logical” extension to the likes of the sub-imperialist, chauvinist BRIC rentier-capitalist politics of Putin and United Russia. All the more strange as this politics is the direct result of the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. by capitalist restoration – the very state this “logic” sought to defend. Go figure.

    Why it is so strategic to line up with all of this pitiful bourgeois nationalist and bureaucratic residue of the past, one that long ago gave up the pretense of “anti-imperialism”, whether in Libya, Syria, Russia or elsewhere is never explained.

    Comment by Matt — December 17, 2011 @ 12:25 am

  27. “De mortuis nihil nisi bonum dicamus.” Except for scumbag shills for capitalist mass murder like Christopher Hitchens. Mourn him after mourning 1,000,000+ Iraqis. For some very helpful perspective, see the eversharp Dave Zirin in, of all places, THE NATION: http://www.thenation.com/blog/165194/one-being-spit-upon-literally-christopher-hitchens.

    Comment by Jim Holstun — December 17, 2011 @ 12:35 am

  28. Sam Marcy isn’t necessary to know which end is up. But you don’t need a weathervane to know which way the wind blows.

    Malcolm X would have had the same response on these broad matters as Fidel does.

    For some people “independence” is something of a religious shibboleth. I’m all for independence, but like anything else, even “independence” has its limitations. For some people, it seems that independence is their religion. But there’s a world-wide struggle going on.

    Why side are these independents on? They are in the third camp, wherever that is. Leading the struggle against…Zinovievism?

    Comment by walterlx@earthlink.net — December 17, 2011 @ 12:37 am

  29. “China requested the United States on Tuesday to stop interfering in its domestic affairs under the human rights pretext…” And the Nürnberg Laws were a German Domestic Affair, right?

    Hitchens had a very mixed life. Buy he died very well!

    Comment by Shane Mage — December 17, 2011 @ 12:49 am

  30. What do all the leftists of the era that went to the right have in common? They were all petite-bourgeoisie. They picked up radical politics as an identity when they were young and abandoned them in favor of “functioning in the real world” when they aged.

    Politics aren’t nearly as important as class. One can change politics like they can change religion… or their socks. In the end it comes down to class. A worker is a worker. Whether or not they read The Post approvingly, they have the power to shut down production, abolish capital and dissolve classes. Were the workers that made the October Revolution all dyed-in-the-wool reds? Not even close. They were rife with anti-semitism, xenophobia, religion and worse. Their social role was the determining factor.

    “Marxists” would do well to revisit Marx’s actual writings and emphasis on the centrality of class.

    “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”

    As for Hitchens, fuck him. It’s pathetic to see people fawn over their enemies once they die. I’ll join the working people of Iraq in shedding not a single tear.

    Comment by The Idiot — December 17, 2011 @ 2:34 am

  31. Hitchens was an intellectual figure who valued his eurocentrism more than his leftism. Obviously, he’s not the only one. Of course, he deserved the brutal condemnations that he received for his support of the invasion of Iraq. He put his personal prestige in the service of a horribly violent, exploitative enterprise. But he deserves credit for facing his death in a clear-eyed, unsentimental way, much as my mother did.

    Comment by Richard Estes — December 17, 2011 @ 5:42 am

  32. I suspect his “leftism” was fake from the beginning. The SWP was and is infected with Identity “Politics” fetishes, so he merely switched his pseudo-radicalism from Identity “Politics” to radical anti-theism.

    Comment by Jacob Richter — December 17, 2011 @ 7:17 am

  33. Matt @ 26: Couple of Factoids. 1) Nobody has “hijacked” anything here? 2) No Marcyite has ever had anything but morbid hatred for Putin.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 17, 2011 @ 11:03 am

  34. I think the correct quote would be: “You don’t need a WEATHERMAN to know which way the wind blows.” After forty-five some years later I never tire of that wonderful line from the great bard.

    And of course it is possible, as has always been the case and practice of revolutionary socialists, from the time of Marx to the Communist International, to the example of Leon Trotsky and beyond, to defend any colonial or semi-colonial country, at any time, anywhere, at any place, from the fangs of imperialism, while at the same time showing solidarity with the working masses in these same countries — the only class that can and will consistently challenge imperialism and win — as they fight for their rights and political space to advance their interests as a class. It’s called the dialectic; being able to breath and chew gum at the same time. Examples of this worthy struggle include the right to form unions, the right to vote, the right of women to participate in society as equals, the right to trial, the right to be free from torture, the right to assembly, the right to opinion and the right to a free press, etc…, etc…, etc. This is really ABC, concepts I more or less grasped when I was a eighteen year-old YSA’er.

    Comment by dave r — December 17, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

  35. The one single thing which restored a small grain of respect by me towards Christopher Hitchens was when he agreed to be water-boarded. I can dream of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter being water-boarded, but they don’t have the guts to willingly submit to it. Limbaugh would discover a cyst on his ass before that happened. So a tip of the hat to Hitchens on that much at least.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — December 17, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  36. Hey, don’t slander the SWP of Britain. The fact that they and others on the left like International Socialists have solidarity with the struggles of oppressed people is to their credit, while the sterile economism of Healyite type *Trotskyism* is and always was an accommodation to reaction, use of the neo-conservative epithet “Identity Politics” being further evidence of that. In “What is to be Done” Lenin talked about social democrats being “tribunes of the people” responding to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, not “trade union secretary” political hacks who pander to bigotry.

    Comment by Tom Cod — December 17, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

  37. Thank you. Though a bit disingenuous of you to cut and paste a different section of his piece and hope your message still coheres.

    And what became of my prior post? I’m detecting trace elements of Room 101 chicanery here.

    Comment by Prakash — December 17, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

  38. Prakash, I did not do anything with your “prior post”, not having seen it. Why don’t you post it again? I copied and pasted the wrong words because the Vanity Fair article did not indent them, which is usually how quotations are handled.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 17, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

  39. just out of curiosity, why shouldn’t Indians have casinos on their land as a way of generating income? I think Cockburn and Bruce Anderson are right that this is an issue of self determination and that the opposition to it, leftist or otherwise, is mired in paternalism and hypocricy. It’s OK, for example, for Napa Valley to be overrun with wineries and trendy tourists, but an Indian casino, oh no. Oh yeah, gambling bad, wine and grape monoculture OK.

    Comment by Tom Cod — December 17, 2011 @ 9:59 pm

  40. WHY exactly are we supposed to feel sorry for this prick?

    People die every day – he’s not the first person to get cancer and I doubt he’ll be the last.

    He was a brought and paid for corporate media scribbler, who cashed in on the fact that a certain segment of White Americans are overly impressed by an aristocratic English accent. He was also a racist, a sexist, a war propagandist, a country club bigot and an all around general purpose asshole. He also made atheism look bad because he used it as a cover for his bigotry and general douchebagishness.

    I feel sorry for that Iraqi soldier who died in a Baghdad hospital today from DU poisoning. I feel for the Eritrean farmer’s daughter who died of dehydration because her village doesn’t have a doctor. I feel bad for that Malian migrant worker drowned in the Straits of Gibraltar on the way to a better life (or at the very least, a job) in the slums of Paris.

    I feel for them.

    Not for this asshole.

    If there’s a hell, he’s already there.

    Let him burn.

    Comment by Gregory A. Butler (@GREGORYABUTLER) — December 18, 2011 @ 7:00 am

  41. Comment no. 26, Putin is not the poster boy for marxism.

    I do think the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. by capitalist restoration or an adaptation of a capitalist model, hasn’t benefited Russian citizens.

    But when these anti-Putin, rigged election protests erupted a few weeks ago, a Soviet veteran chanted for a communist return and he was booed and beaten by the crowd.

    Why? When most average people were polled in Russia some years ago, they were asked if they felt better off under the old communist system or the new system of today.

    A large number said they were not better off today and wanted communism back.

    I believe an older man who was interviewed at that time about the poll had said through a translator that at least under communism I didn’t have to dumpster dive for food.

    Capitalist restoration certainly hasn’t helped Russia because capitalism is a regime that is for the power hungry politicians and the growth of wealth for the ruling class.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — December 18, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

  42. Birds of a feather flock together.

    Hitchens went to Cuba as an opponent of the Cuban revolution.
    Its opponents mourn his loss:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2011/12/christopher_hitchens_his_vanity_fair_story_about_a_cuban_dissident_.html

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — December 19, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

  43. Walter: Like I described my drunken liaison with Hitch earlier 10 years ago on my birthday of 12/16/01 — his exact words to me were: “If Cuba were to have free & fair elections today Castro would surely win — but with each passing day that prospect is evermore unlikely.” He thus advocated UN monitored elections immediately, blah, blah, blah. I replied: “You mean like the UN elections in Nicaragua circa 1989?” “Yes”, he replied. “But” I cried: “those elections had an opposition party financed by the CIA!”

    He quickly dropped the Cuban subject but then I diverted it back to the 1st Gulf War, where he admitted he was for “sanctions” against Iraq, as was Chomsky (and much to Proyect’s chagrin, Peter Camejo). Turns out the pro-sanctions coalition, which split a historically militant (post Soviet) large (for the time) antiwar movement (lead primarily in the USA by Ramsay Clark’s gravitas & the WWP’s organizational prowess) that amassed despite the split at least 100,000 demonstrators against both war & sanctions in Washington DC. It would have likely been over a half a million had not the reformist weight of the pro sanctions crowd had their way.

    Turns out the the pro sanctions crowd got their wish. Clinton implemented a decade of sanctions that even the UN admitted killed half a million of Iraq’s most vulnerable — children and old people. Hitch, rarely at a loss for words, was remarkably dumbfounded when I explained that bombing old people & children to death would have actually been far more humane than watching them slowly starve through dehydration, dysentery and lack of medicines.

    So sure he died an Opponent of Cuba… just as he died a Proponent of the Iraq War, the Greatest War Crime of the 21st Century, and so therefore technically Greg Butler is right, but I’m guessing Butler’s much younger than us and therefore he’s inexorably less sympathetic to the human frailties of grizzled old soldiers like You, Me & Lou who see in the profound sadness of Hitch’s Death Face Picture our own immanent mortality.

    Nevertheless the history of Marxism proves that immortality is earned not supernaturally but by ones actions here on Earth, which collective memory passes on to future generations in the form of thought and inspiration, and the bottom line of history will not be kind to petite-bourgeois fellow traveller opportunist vacillators & snitches like Christopher Hitchens whom the world’s toilers, particularly millions of Iraqis, shed only crocodile tears for.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 20, 2011 @ 2:27 am

  44. the profound sadness of Hitch’s Death Face Picture our own immanent mortality.

    Of course.That’s what my post was about, not Cuba. Walter Lippmann who has been stalking me on any forum I am involved with for close to a decade–despite having two different cancers as he stated–turned this into another stupid pissing contest of the kind that he is infamous for. I have banned him from Marxmail and the SWP mailing list and will be forced to ban him here as well. I wrote an article about human suffering and mortality, subjects that interested me long before I ever heard of Leon Trotsky. They are on my mind more now then ever since my oldest friends are falling like soldiers on patrol in a WWII movie. My friend Richard Greener, who has a great post on Huffington about why Obama is the true Republican nominee, had a heart transplant about 5 years ago. Just a month ago they discovered plaque in his bloodstream, a sign that the old problems had returned. Fortunately, the plaque mysteriously disappeared–a sign of Christmas blessings, who knows. Anyhow, it is so sad, so really sad, that this is the only thing Walter wants to discuss: who is a true revolutionary anti-imperialist defending Cuba. There must be something missing in his psychic makeup, I suppose. More Tolstoy and less Trotsky would have helped him at some point perhaps.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 20, 2011 @ 2:59 am

  45. I wish I could write like Karl and Louis, in posts 43 and 44, political difference we have notwithstanding. Them’s fine words, indeed.

    Comment by dave r — December 20, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

  46. Agreed, one can feel only the most generic of sympathies for Hitchens in his death throes, and only if one forgets that this was the Hitchens who in his last political incarnation would gleefully dance on the graves of GW Bush’s “murdered innocents” all for the sake of his self promotion. Norman Finkelstein gets Hitchens right as a kind of psychopathology signifying not much of anything except the writers’ boundless egoism, in an article marred only by Finkelstein’s negative invocation of “Trotskyism”:

    “Most of Long Short War is given over to parsing words. According to Hitchens, all the key terms of the debate on Iraq were meaningless. In his hands this is probably true. For many years Hitchens awed readers with his formidable control over the English language. Now his ego delights in testing whether, through sheer manipulation of words, he can pass off flatulent emissions as bouquets. It perhaps would be funny watching fatuous readers fawn over gibberish – were not human life at stake. Hitchens can’t believe a word he’s saying. In contrast to bursting windbags like Vaclav Havel, Hitchens is too smart to take his vaporizings seriously. It’s almost an inside joke as he signals each ridiculous point with the assertion that it’s “obvious.” Hitchens resembles no one so much as the Polish émigré hoaxer, Jerzy Kosinski, who, shrewdly sizing up intellectual culture in America, used to give, before genuflecting Yale undergraduates, lectures on such topics as “The Art of the Self: the theory of `Le Moi Poetique’ (Binswanger).” Translation: for this wanger it’s all about moi. Kosinski no doubt had a good time of it until, outed as a fraud, he had enough good grace, which Hitchens plainly lacks, to commit suicide. And for Hitchens it’s also lucrative nonsense that he’s peddling. It’s not exactly a martyr’s fate defecting from The Nation, a frills-free liberal magazine, to Atlantic Monthly, the well-heeled house organ of Zionist crazies. Although Kissinger affected to be a “solitary, gaunt hero,” Hitchens says, in reality he was just a “corpulent opportunist.” It sounds familiar.”

    http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/on-christopher-hitchens/

    Comment by Matt — December 20, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

  47. The following quote is from Miriam Leiva’s Slate article: ” So we began 1996 at the Hotel Nacional’s presidential suite, meeting Christopher’s dad, mom, wife, and little daughter. It was really moving. His whole family! ” This statement made me laugh because Hitchen’s father died in 1987 and his mother committed suicide in Athens in 1973. Let’s have a contest to see how many false memories the great man’s passing will evoke. It’s funny that Proyect is all broken up over this death but was lustily cheering on the imperialist sponsored tribal bloodletting in Libya. I guess only certain people are deemed truly human enough to merit the ” Unrepentant Marxist’s sympathy. Tawerghans don’t qualify, what bullshit

    Comment by lextheimpaler — December 21, 2011 @ 5:27 am

  48. FIRST CLOWN:
    A pestilence on him for a mad rogue! A poured
    a flagon of Rhenish on my head once. This same skull, sir,
    was Yorick’s skull, the King’s jester.

    HAMLET:
    This?

    FIRST CLOWN:
    E’en that.

    HAMLET:
    [Takes the skull.]
    Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him,
    Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He
    hath borne me on his back a thousand times. And now how
    abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here
    hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.
    Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs?
    your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table
    on a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning? Quite
    chop-fallen?…

    ————————

    ANTONY
    Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
    The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones;
    So let it be with Caesar. …

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — December 21, 2011 @ 10:37 am

  49. No particular point to make, but it occurs to me that Hitchens wrote something based on that soliloquy criticizing the 1st gulf war, but I can’t recall any exact quotes, so no success googling it.

    Comment by godoggo — December 22, 2011 @ 6:33 am

  50. Sure he critisized that War and he thought the best way to avoid it was to allow UN sanctions to take place. The pro sanctions crowd thus split the peace movement as they set a different DC demo date than the original one championed by Ramsey Clark & organized by the WWP. Turns out Iraq got both: carpet bombed and, thanks to Clinton, ten years of murderous sanctions.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 22, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

  51. [...] to the cause.  For the audacity of going against American liberalism’s champion, Hitch was vilified by the kind of people who had spent decades using him as an ideological buttress to hold up their [...]

    Pingback by Thoughts On The Passing Of Christopher Hitchens « Blog de KingShamus — December 23, 2011 @ 2:41 am


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